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News and Press

November 01, 2011
Thinking Outside the Wallet


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Forbes_ThinkingOutsideWallet.pdf

Thinking Outside the Wallet
 
Rebecca O. Bagley, Contributor, Forbes
I write about growing regional industry clusters that create jobs.
11/01/2011 @ 12:27PM
 
One of the most daunting challenges facing companies – especially startups – is access to capital.  But, when you’re in a stalled economy – such as we have today – banks become tentative and venture capitalists become even more exacting and particular.
 
I was one of more than 200 people who recently met in Arlington, Texas at the National Association of Seed and Venture Funds (NASVF) conference to talk about innovation capital and strategies for managing investment programs and institutions.  It was an interesting and diverse group of public and private stakeholders.  Among those present were venture capitalists, state venture capital professionals, companies looking for funding, federal government officials and innovation intermediaries like NorTech.
 
A wide variety of issues were discussed but one of the most intriguing was how to think creatively and utilize multiple types and sources of capital to grow businesses. So where do we begin?  Banks?  Venture capitalists?  Strategic partners? Government seed money? In other words, innovation capital.
 
Traditional sources such as banks and venture capital will always play an important role.  But, if you need funds for your company today, and private sources are sitting on the sidelines until the dust settles, where do you turn?  Will your company’s growth come to a standstill until the markets stabilize?
 
I was a speaker on a panel at NASVF with a representative from Silicon Valley Bank (SVB). They have some very innovative programs for entrepreneurs, one of which is to focus on companies that are or could be backed by venture capital firms.
 
Federal capital was also discussed as a key tool for some companies as the capital markets remain tight.  More well-known programs like Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) are critical. 
 
During my session at NASVF, I encouraged the audience to think about a company’s potential market(s) and the federal government agencies that purchase or test in those markets.  For instance, if a company has an energy efficiency product that can be can manufactured in the US they could look to the Department of Energy (DOE) for potential traditional funding; National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) for help with manufacturing process; and potentially General Services Administration for testing or implementation in government buildings (they own 2 percent of commercial real estate nationwide).
 
State programs, like the Third Frontier in Ohio, can also provide supplemental funding to help businesses get off the ground or at least get moving in the right direction.  Grants, loans, and tax incentives can help a company get to the next stage of development if used appropriately.
 
“State and federal support has really helped our business grow. Over the past 4 years in addition to our commercial contracts, we have received $1.6 million in state of Ohio grants, loans and tax credits combined with $1.7 million in federal funding,” said Matthew Graham, vice president of business development for Akron Polymer Systems, a developer of specialty polymers for flexible displays. “With this funding, we are working to develop and commercialize our technology, hire more employees and build a new and larger facility in downtown Akron, Ohio to support our business as it expands.”
 
One thing is very clear; in today’s economy and the next, those who survive and flourish will be the ones who are creative about how we stimulate company growth and development. At the end of the day, I believe public/private partnerships are going to be a key part of that winning formula.
 
Article originally published: http://www.forbes.com/sites/rebeccabagley/2011/11/01/thinking-outside-the-wallet/



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